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Peruvian native Potatoes to join world's largest banana collection in KU Leuven, Belgium

Peruvian native Potatoes to join world's largest banana collection in KU Leuven, Belgium

For 30 years, KU Leuven has been home to an impressive collection of bananas that already contains over 1,500 varieties and is the biggest in its kind. The collection is recognized as world heritage and will soon be expanded with another food crop: 8,000 potato varieties of the International Potato Centre in Peru are coming to Leuven. (Courtesy: Bioversity International)

---->Update 2017-01-26: This News Item has been withdrawn by the KU Leuven

Statement by the International Potato Center

  • CIP has not sent any accession from the potato collection as a security copy to this university’s facilities.
  • CIP has in its custody a total of approximately 4,400 accessions of cultivated and native potatoes from different countries, which make up what we call the potato collection.
  • CIP has security copies (also known as black box copies) in the form of in vitro cultivation (medium-term conservation method) of its potato collection, at its experimental station in Huancayo and also at EMBRAPA (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária) in Brazil.
The black box practice is a standard international security measure used by germplasm banks, whose purpose is to protect the collection, to be used in the event of total or partial loss of the collection as a result of natural risks (fires, earthquakes) and/or political risks (war, acts of terrorism). The black box agreements are clearly defined and do not permit the use or distribution of this material by the organizations that have the material in their custody.

In its ongoing efforts to ensure the best possible security worldwide, CIP also maintains a black box copy of the sweetpotato collection at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) [Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT)] in Cali, Colombia (another CGIAR center).

Moreover, as part of its security strategy, CIP is discussing with Bioversity International (also a CGIAR center) the possibility that the latter institution might take on the conservation under the liquid nitrogen conservation method (or cryopreservation, a long-term conservation method, theoretically for more than 100 years) of the copy of part of its potato collection. Bioversity International has the mandate to conserve the international banana and plantain collection (Musa), which is physically located at the Catholic University of Leuven.

We regret that bad use has been made of this incorrect information for the sole purpose of damaging our institution. We want to inform the public that the University of Leuven has removed the information from its web site and has apologized for this error of misinformation.

Read response on CIP website
For 30 years, KU Leuven (University of Leuven, Belgium) has been home to an impressive collection of bananas that already contains over 1,500 varieties and is the biggest in its kind.

The collection is recognized as world heritage and will soon be expanded with another food crop: 8,000 potato varieties of the International Potato Centre in Peru are coming to Leuven.

Professor Rony Swennen of the KU Leuven Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, which manages the banana collection:

"Here in Leuven, we have 1,536 of the estimated 2,000 banana varieties."
The collection now falls under the umbrella of the United Nations as the 'Bioversity Musa Germplasm International Transit Centre'.

To preserve this many varieties, the bioengineers use a cold chamber - containing test tubes with small banana plantlets of 3 to 4 centimetres—and cryotanks with plant stem cells in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius.

Rony Swennen:

"By using this method of cryopreservation, we can preserve the stem cells for hundreds of years and even regenerate them to a normal plantlet."
The CIP, the International Potato Centre in Peru, manages a collection of potatoes, sweet potatoes and other tuber and root crops from the Andes, and is convinced of the success of the technology used in Leuven.

Rony Swennen:

"They also use cryopreservation to preserve potatoes and will soon send us a copy of their own collection of 8,000 potato varieties."
(Click to enlarge)

8,000 native potato varieties of the International Potato Centre in Peru will soon join these banana plantlets (close-up) at the KU in Leuven, Belgium (Courtesy: Bioversity International)

Cryopreservation can also be used for many other plants:

Rony Swennen:

"You can apply this technique to all plants that don't produce their own seeds, such as most bananas, or plants whose seeds are difficult to stock, such as coconuts."

"By doing so, you could build a counterpart to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world seed bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen."
(Click to enlarge)

8,000 native potato varieties of the International Potato Centre in Peru will soon join these banana plantlets (overview) at the KU in Leuven, Belgium (Courtesy: Bioversity International)

Companies in this Article
The International Potato Center or Centro Internacional de la Papa (also known by its Spanish acronym, CIP) seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries.
The University of Leuven is Belgium's largest and oldest university.